1930s >> 1937 >> no-389-january-1937

Leaders and the Led by Rosa Luxemburg

(Taken from an article in the Neue Zeit, year XII (1903-1904), No. 2.)


Goethe’s “odious majority,” composed of several vigorous spell-binders, a few scoundrels ready to adapt themselves to any cause or programme, a number of weak souls ever-ready to be assimilated, and the great mass “trotting behind without having the least idea what it wants—the characterisation that the bourgeois pen-pushers would like to fasten to the Socialist mass—is no more or less than the classic formula for “majorities” of the parties of the bourgeoisie.


In all the class struggles of the past, waged in the interest of minorities, and in which, as Marx said, “development was brought about in opposition to the great mass of the people,” an essential condition of action was the ignorance of the mass concerning the real aim, the material content and the limits of the movement. This difference between the “leaders” and the “led ” was the specific historical basis underlying the “directing role” assumed by the “educated bourgeoisie.” A natural complement to the role played by the bourgeois “ leaders” was the part of the ”followers” left to the mass.


But already, in 1845, Marx noted that, “with the increasing depth of historic action grows the volume of the mass engaged in this action.” The class struggle waged by the proletariat is the “deepest” of all historic actions that have taken place up to now. It takes in all the lower sections of the people. For the first time since the beginning of class society it corresponds to the interests of the people itself.


That is why the understanding by the mass of its tasks and instruments is an indispensable condition for Socialist revolutionary action—just as formerly the ignorance of the mass was an indispensable condition for the revolutionary action of the ruling classes.


As a result, the difference between “leaders” and the “majority trotting along behind” is abolished (in the Socialist movement). The relation between the mass and the leaders is destroyed. The only function left to the supposed “guides” of the social-democracy is that of explaining to the mass the historic mission of the latter. The authority and influence of such “leaders” grows in proportion to the work of education of this kind accomplished by them. Their prestige and influence increases only in the measure that they, the so-called leaders, destroy the condition that was formerly the basis for every function of leaders: the blindness of the mass. Their influence grows in the measure that they strip themselves of their rôle as leaders, in the measure that they make the mass self-directing and they themselves become no more than the executive organs of the self-conscious action of the mass.


Undoubtedly, the transformation of the mass into a sure, conscious, lucid “self-leader”—the fusion of science and the working-class dreamt of by Lassalle—can only be a dialectic process, as the working-class movement absorbs uninterruptedly new proletarian elements as well as fugitives from other sections of society.


Nevertheless, such is and such will be the dominant tendency of the Socialist movement: the abolition of the relation that is the historic basis of all class domination.


(Translated by “ G.” and published in the International Review, September-October, 1936.)